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Washington • Jon Huntsman Jr. is still registered to vote as a resident of the Utah governor's mansion even through he resigned his office some 19 months ago to become the U.S. ambassador to China.
In fact, Huntsman voted by absentee ballot for last year's general election using the state-owned mansion on South Temple as his Utah residence months after Gov. Gary Herbert settled into the historic building and Huntsman purchased a home in Washington, D.C.
It is generally illegal for voters to cast ballots using a residential address where they no longer reside. But state and federal law seem to back Huntsman's ability to still vote using the governor's mansion as his home because that was his last address before he left for Beijing to serve as an employee of the U.S. government.
Huntsman sold his Salt Lake City home when he moved into the governor's mansion in 2005, leaving him without another residence from which to register to vote.
Huntsman plans to leave his diplomatic post by April 30 and is considering a presidential bid. Last June, he purchased a $3.6 million home in a tony D.C. neighborhood, though he has yet to register to vote in the nation's capital.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing declined to comment on Huntsman's voter registration, saying, "We cannot speculate as to when or how the ambassador chooses to exercise his freedom to vote."
And it doesn't seem to rankle political observers who give wide-berth to where a candidate registers as long as it falls within election law.
"This comes up periodically with many candidates," says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University. "We live in a highly mobile society, people move around and particularly if you're a person of considerable means like Governor Huntsman, you're going to have more than one residence."
Baker notes it probably made sense for Huntsman to vote in Utah last November because it wouldn't have been politically expedient to register as a resident of the District of Columbia, a Democratic stronghold and the target of American's angst with politics.
"His base is in Utah," Baker said. "He'd probably have more to explain if" he registered in Washington.
Huntsman has missed two elections since leaving in August 2009 for Beijing: the 2009 municipal election and last year's primary election when Huntsman's former general counsel Mike Lee defeated Tim Bridgewater to become Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. Lee went on to win the general election.
It's unclear where Huntsman might base his campaign should he run for the White House though aides stressed last year he bought the home in Washington only because of the proximity to his children, many of whom live on the East Coast.
Matthew Burbank, a professor of political science at the University of Utah, says people will probably give Huntsman a pass on not registering in Washington, since the ambassador hasn't technically lived there yet.
And missing two out of three elections while based halfway around the world is forgivable, too, Burbank adds.
"I suspect that's not something too many voters will worry about," he said. "My sense of that is given his change of jobs from governor to being ambassador, I think that most people would say that's not an unreasonable record of voting."
Utah election law
R "A person has not gained or lost a residence solely because the person is present in Utah or present in a voting precinct or absent from Utah or absent from the person's voting precinct because the person is … employed in the service of the United States or of Utah."
- Utah Code 20A-2-4(C)i